Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, 2020.
Directed by David Dobkin.
Starring Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, and Graham Norton.
When aspiring musicians Lars and Sigrit are given the opportunity to represent their country at the world’s biggest song competition, they finally have a chance to prove that any dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for.
Though this year’s Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled for obvious reasons, the show goes on for Netflix, whose companion comedy film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga wrapped principal photography late last year.
And while this star-studded comedy might provide intermittent comfort to those missing the show’s annual parade of silliness, it is for the most part an inept, lumbering hog of a movie with too few ideas and too many minutes on offer.
Yet the subject matter is by no means an inherently poor basis for a comedy. A Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping-style mockumentary send-up of the shamelessly daft contest could’ve made for gangbusters froth, yet this oddly earnest comedy smacks instead of a branding exercise – which, clearly, it really is. To that end, its true success will be bringing global visibility to the show during its enforced fallow year, letting hungover students the world over learn what Eurovision sort-of is.
Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) are a small-time Icelandic pop duo by the name of Fire Saga, who through circumstances too ridiculous to detail here, end up appointed Iceland’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest. On the road to the show’s final, excessive hi-jinks ensue.
Disappointingly, the end result isn’t so much a big-budget excuse to sneer at the show’s general dearth of Actual Talent – filled as it is with cringe-inducingly overproduced pop songs – or how much of the show’s voting boils down to a geo-political popularity contest. Rather, this is a template-driven underdog story wrapped around a cliched romance between its two stars…which just so happens to have Eurovision as its backdrop.
Even as a Pitch Perfect-style musical riff-off, though, this is weak sauce; the original songs are neither funny nor clever in composition – though Fire Saga’s flagship tune is just catchy enough to not be completely awful – while audiences will also be “treated” to sporadic, auto-tuned cover-medleys of hit pop tunes.
As for what passes for humour, it’s typically jokes about culture clash – yes, hearing Icelandic people say “Semen and Garfunkel” is apparently hilarious – and a bizarre recurring gag about incest which becomes only more groan-worthy with each passing utterance.
The film, helmed by genre journeyman David Dobkin (Wedding Crashes, The Change-Up) only dares to show major flecks of personality with its occasional detours into Anchorman-style wacky comedy, but even this too often feels counter to the established tone. Did anyone really expect a lighter-than-air send-up of Eurovision to feature two scenes in which people are violently murdered? Two!
Despite clearly having cost a pretty penny, there’s a slapdash cheapness to the whole shebang; one suspects the script – co-written by Ferrell, no less – left plenty of blank spaces for improv, which he and his cast categorically failed to meaningfully fill. Either way, there’s rarely enough here to generate more than the faintest quiver of the cheek muscle.
The direction job by Dobkin is meanwhile embarrassingly rough for the most part; this is one of the most visually repulsive mainstream comedies I’ve seen in quite some time, defined by unfussed camera set-ups, wildly overlit cinematography, and during its climactic Eurovision sequence, revoltingly poor green-screen effects.
McAdams plays her underwritten part with gusto, at least, counter to Ferrell, who is basically a dull facsimile of his tired man-child doofus – but this time with an accent. The easy MVP is Dan Stevens, clearly having a whale of a time here as Russian Eurovision entrant Alexander Lemtov; a Russian George Michael proxy – feathered hair, closeted homosexuality and all. A sliver of the joy he had playing this part at least transpires through to the audience; his back must be aching something fierce from carrying this thing to even base watchability.
Pierce Brosnan, sadly, is thoroughly wasted as Lars’ uptight father Erick, and given the iconically terrible vocal chops he showed off in Mamma Mia, viewers may be split on whether his lack of musical performance here is a missed opportunity or a tender mercy. There’s also a treasure trove of Eurovision cameos for long-time fans of the show to keep their eyes peeled for, and yes, UK commentator Graham Norton pops up later on to rattle off a slew of catty auto-cue one-liners.
Despite this capable assembled cast, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is just too low-effort a production to suffice. As a romance it’s rife with unearned sentiment – even making abusively manipulative use of Sigur Rós’ “Hoppípolla” during the “emotional” climax – and as a mere piece of cinema you can pipe into your home via the magic of streaming, it’s completely disposable white noise.
There’s nothing surprising about the story, which isn’t explicitly a bad thing, but without banger one-liners or much charm to compensate, Fire Saga is a barren dud rescued only by a disproportionately game Dan Stevens. Had this been a spry 80-90 minutes, it wouldn’t be so aggressively infuriating in its complacent laziness, but at 123, it feels like an insulting waste of time; a thoroughly bungled execution of a not-completely-terrible idea.
A textbook example of a mildly amusing SNL skit (at best) inexplicably stretched out to two mostly unfunny, patience-pulverising hours.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.